District Court Rejects Constitutional Challenge Where Charge Based in Part on Evidence Seized in Cambodia in Violation of Cambodian Law

The World in U.S. Courts: Winter 2015 - White Collar Criminal

United States v. Boyajian, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, November 26, 2014

Boyajian, a U.S. citizen, was charged with various crimes relating to his allegedly engaging in sex with a minor while in Cambodia.

The Court first considered whether to exclude certain evidence collected in Cambodia in connection with a search conducted jointly by U.S. and Cambodian law enforcement officials. Because the search was deemed to be a “joint venture” between U.S. and non-U.S. law enforcement, the Court concluded that the admissibility of evidence would be governed by the same Fourth Amendment standards as would apply if the search had been conducted by U.S. police in the U.S.

In a prior opinion, the Court had concluded that Fourth Amendment requirements had been met because the evidence had been collected in accordance with Cambodian law. Subsequently, the Supreme Court of Cambodia had considered Boyajian’s case under Cambodian law and found the search to be illegal. Analyzing the specific provisions of law considered by the Cambodian Supreme Court and the evidence given there, the U.S. Court acknowledged that the Cambodian Court’s ruling might be in conflict with its own, in which case the U.S. Court might have to defer to the Cambodian ruling based on principles of international comity. But the Court did not resolve the “difficult question” whether there was an irreconcilable conflict, because it concluded that it would not exclude the evidence in any event. In reaching this conclusion, the Court applied U.S. standards as to the exclusion of evidence, and found applicable the “good faith exception” to the exclusionary rule, under which evidence would be admissible from even an illegal search if the police had an objectively good faith belief that their conduct was not improper.

As to the merits, Boyajian moved to dismiss the charge on grounds that his conduct did not satisfy the terms of the criminal statute, which applies to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who “travels in foreign commerce or resides, either temporarily or permanently, in a foreign country, and engages in any illicit sexual conduct with another person.” The Court rejected his arguments, finding first that the five-month period between his departure from the U.S. and the alleged commission of the violation, and the fact that he may have taken intervening trips, did not preclude a finding that the alleged violation occurred while he was “travel[ing].” Next, the Court rejected his argument that the statute could not be applied because at the time of the alleged violation he was a Cambodian resident, finding that his U.S. citizenship provided a “sufficient nexus” with the U.S. to support a criminal prosecution based on extraterritorial conduct. The Court also denied various arguments by Boyajian that charges should be dismissed as violative of his constitutional Due Process rights and right to confront witnesses against him, concluding most notably that Boyajian had been denied no constitutional right where he was unable to compel the attendance of witnesses in Cambodia who were outside the Court’s jurisdiction.

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